Hoffman's debut, a by-the-numbers Southern charmer, recounts 12-year-old Cecelia Rose Honeycutt's recovery from a childhood with her crazy mother, Camille, and cantankerous father, Carl, in 1960s Willoughby, Ohio. After former Southern beauty queen Camille is struck and killed by an ice cream truck, Carl hands over Cecelia to her great-aunt Tootie. Whisked off to a life of privilege in Savannah, Ga., Cecelia makes fast friends with Tootie's cook, Oletta, and gets to know the cadre of eccentric women who flit in and out of Tootie's house, among them racist town gossip Violene Hobbs and worldly, duplicitous Thelma Rae Goodpepper. Aunt Tootie herself is the epitome of goodness, and Oletta is a sage black woman. Unfortunately, any hint of trouble is nipped in the bud before it can provide narrative tension, and Hoffman toys with, but doesn't develop, the idea that Cecelia could inherit her mother's mental problems. Madness, neglect, racism and snobbery slink in the background, but Hoffman remains locked on the sugary promise of a new day.
In Hoffman's charming debut, Cecelia Rose (CeeCee) Honeycutt tells the story of her tragic life and the strong women who stepped in to save her. At age 12, CeeCee realizes her mother, flouncing around Willoughby, OH, in prom dresses and matching shoes, is crazy and the town's laughingstock. Her father is never home, and nothing is going to change so CeeCee buries herself in books as an escape. But her true liberation comes after her mother's tragic death when great-aunt Tootie sweeps CeeCee off to Savannah. There, a group of powerful, independent women offer the young girl love, laughter and a new chance at life. Readers who enjoy strong female characters will appreciate CeeCee, a survivor despite her heartbreaking childhood, and Aunt Tootie and her friends, all of them steel magnolias. Verdict: Exemplifying Southern storytelling at its best, this coming-of-age novel is sure to be a hit with the book clubs that adopted Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees. Interestingly enough, both novels share the same editor.
Sunshine enters an unhappy child's life in a Southern getting-of-wisdom novel as uncomplicatedly sweet as one of Oletta's famous cinnamon rolls. A fairy tale with streaks of psychology and social conscience, CeeCee Rose Honeycutt's odyssey unfolds mainly in Savannah, Ga. The 12-year-old moves there in the late 1960s to live with her kindly, wealthy Great-Aunt Tootie after the death of CeeCee's increasingly deranged mother and with the encouragement of her neglectful, distant father. Tootie's cook Oletta-big, black and stern, but with a heart of gold-exerts a growing influence on the girl, fattening her up with delicious food while offering life lessons, reassurance and companionship. The novel's society is almost exclusively female and generally quirky, ranging from Tootie's eccentric elderly friends to her feuding neighbors. Male characters are rare and generally flawed: layabouts, crooks and emotional black holes. Race issues supply the strongest story line (a robbery on the beach) in a narrative more episodic than linear. Mainly, CeeCee comes to terms with her feelings of shame, guilt and loss over her mother; hears about slavery, segregation and the KKK; encounters a wide range of human behavior, from generosity to mean-spiritedness; makes a friend; and above all finds a new, all-female family. Humor, wish-fulfillment and buckets of sentiment bulk out an innocent, innovation-free debut that would work well for teenage readers.
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